Adventures of the Cotic - A Quick Release holidays mountain bike race team

Sunday, 28 April 2013

A day long adventure.

New AQR team recruit Martin looks ahead to his BIG event of the year...

In less than 2 weeks time I will embark on a new challenge, and I am really not sure what to expect. On Saturday 11th May at 12:00pm I’ll clip in and push off the start at 24 Hours of Exposure in Wasing and if all goes well, not stop turning those pedals until 12:00pm on Sunday 12th May. I’ve raced 24 hours before, but never alone – there has always been 1 or 3 more people helping me out, giving me the opportunity to sit in a comfortable chair, eat while relaxing, change my socks, and share stories of the last lap with the other riders in the pits. None of that this time I’m afraid.

Not just any solo race, this is the UK and European Championships
Not just any solo race, this is the UK and European Championships
Last season, there was never really any pressure. It’s fair to say I exceeded my own expectations in pretty much every race I entered – a 5th at 12 Hours of Exposure and 2nd at Torq 12:12 being the highlights. As I’ve never raced a 24hour solo event before – I should really be turning up with no expectations other than to learn and hopefully finish. Anything else should be a bonus.
So why over the past few weeks have I started to put pressure on myself for this race? I’ve been getting angry with myself when I’ve missed training sessions because of weather, work or illness. My DNF at Whinlatter last weekend did not help. I’ve been finding it hard to relax – always thinking there is something I could be doing to help my performance, whether that’s stretching and core work or tinkering (badly) with the bikes to get the optimum setup.
My mind tells me I can do well in this race. I don’t know whether “well” translates into podium, 5th or 10th – it all depended on who else turns up on the day. For me it’s not about position; it’s about putting all that training and hard work into being as fast as I know I can be. I know the riders that are faster than me – if I am close to them, or even ahead of them then mission accomplished. If I’m a long way from them or behind those that were slower than me last year – then in my mind that is failure and I will be disappointed, even if I finish.
The reality is that I have no idea how my body or mind will react after 12 hours. I’ve been to some dark places on a bike. I like to think that my head is strong and I can pull myself out even darker places should they come. I’ve got lucky with mechanicals and crashes last year – maybe this year I’ll not be so lucky.
At least if the course is a pad eater, I’ve got plenty of spares to slow me down
At least if the course is a pad eater, I’ve got plenty of spares to slow me down
So the aim over the precious few days leading up to the race is to nail every training session. Make sure the bikes are at 100%. Prepare all the equipment, clothes and food in time. Ensure all logistics are in place in the build up to the race. I’ll make time for relaxing and recovery. I’ll eat well. I’ll sleep well.
If I do all this, it will give me more confidence, it will cast away some of those doubts and I will begin to lift some of that self inflicted pressure.
Right now I’m 50% excited and 50% nervous. The aim for the start line is to be 90% excited, 10% nervous. And that little bit of nervousness can be transferred in to adrenaline to keep me pedalling and racing for 24 hours!
P.S. Just writing this has already made me 60% excited, 40% nervous. 24 hours…you’re mine!

Tuesday, 23 April 2013

If Carlsberg did Easter...

Kirsty and Matt look back at the perfect Easter...

Kirsty: 5pm Thursday, Matt and I are sitting at home contemplating how best to spend the Easter weekend. Fast-forward 24 hours, and we are sitting in the café in Alte, Portugal with a pot of tea big enough to feed the 5,000, a huge figoo snack, and an even bigger smile on our faces. Having secured the last 2 seats on the flight to Faro and the last available room in the hotel, we knew this was meant to be!

The beauty of Alte – aside from the olive and orange groves and the Mediterranean climate – is that it is less than an hour from the airport. After an early flight from Bristol, we had unpacked and were ready to hit the trails before midday!

A gentle start, involving more than 1 café stop (oops… wasn’t meant to admit to that one!!), confirmed that we had made an excellent decision. After the sub-zero temperatures in the UK, it was a pleasure to finish the ride with the ability to feel our fingers and toes (albeit slightly bedraggled after a warm rain shower!).

Matt: First things first… what bike was I going to ride? What more could I ask for than a brand new Cotic Solaris 29er from the AQR hire fleet – I can’t believe that Potter trusted me with that, especially when I crashed the bike before leaving the workshop – that will teach me for riding the bike indoors on shiny tiles!

It is great to ride somewhere completely different, especially in familiar territory from last year’s trip. As usual there were some Potter challenges along the route and having successfully negotiated Abby’s bath, Hannah’s bath and Paul’s dip, I then had the honour of being the first bloke to clear Ribby Jibby.

Bring on another day’s riding and some sunshine for tomorrow.


Matt: Once coaxed out of bed, started the day with an early morning run in the sunshine - what a contrast to yesterday’s rain. Getting up early in the morning is always an effort but so worth it once you are out there! (I hope Kate doesn’t read this otherwise she will be introducing more early morning sessions before breakfast!)

Kirsty: After breakfast, we set off in the direction of Rocha da Pena. The riding was varied, with a few cheeky techy ups and downs, and some nice rolling sections. After managing to slide out in the mud, I found myself half way down the bank on a section already known as ‘Kirsty’s Kerb’ (after I decided to take an “interesting” line a couple of years ago)… twice in 3 years… much to Matt and Mr. Potter’s amusement (who put that rock there???!!!). Happily, I redeemed myself down the drop-offs, and even received a round of applause from a group of Portuguese riders (who we then proceeded to beat up the climb – Potter training must be paying off!).


Kirsty: Another early start – in fact an uber-early start as the clocks went forward, and we made the mistake of adjusting our phones last night, only to find they also adjusted themselves automatically, so our 6.45am alarm actually went off at 5.45am… doh!! (Having realised our mistake – apologies to the night-porter for waking him up – we snuck back to bed for half an hour.) Today we earned our breakfast with a short run followed by a Kate special – run throughs, stretching, balance and the Potter ‘bleep test’. We also had two four-legged friends for company – the Potter pooches Dylan and Marley. Dylan in particular kept distracting us with his best ‘please throw my orange for me’ look.

Matt: Another great day’s riding – a bit on the wet side, but we didn’t let that spoil our fun. The ‘Three Peaks Challenge’ was on the agenda today, which has now been renamed ‘Meet the Fockers’.

Had a good post-ride coaching chat with Kate, looking ahead to our big goal for this year (more on that in later blogs, but suffice to say it involves the Pyrenees, some big climbs and a road bike). Plus ideas from Ian on how to reduce the weight of my road bike – bike weight is one of Mr. Potter’s fortes!


Matt: Yippee!! The sun’s shining!! It must be time for the river ride. The river was in full flow, which meant we got to ride the flowy river singletrack both ways, along with some cheeky new trails and a great descent back into Alte for our final cake stop.

Kirsty: A great day’s riding to top off a wicked long weekend. Good food, good company, and a hint of a cyclist’s tan. Can’t think of a better way to spend my Easter… thanks Kate and Ian!

Wednesday, 17 April 2013

A weekend of XC racing

In contrast to Ruth and Emma's experience at the National XC just a couple of weeks ago, this weekend's races saw blue skies and blustery spring time weather as Rachel and Katie were in action on the XC courses north and south of the border.

First up, Katie reports from Scotland

Round 2 of the Scottish XC series at Abriachan was definitely one of extremes. The course was wonderfully Scottish - copious amounts of peaty, boggy mud, off-camber roots and loose stones, washed up with a good dose of fresh debris from recent clear felling of the forest. And on race morning I'd realised my forks were somewhat rigid (which they'd clearly not been the day before). This was going to be an interesting day out…

But with no mechanic to hand, I focused instead on my next priority - how was I going to drink? My bottle cage was 'stuck' on my spare bike due to a lost thread. Getting a bottle out of a rear pocket at race pace is one thing; getting it back in is quite another, especially on this course. So I figured the best option was to drink as much as I could on the fireroad, and grip bottle between teeth to switch at the feedzone – a rather long few minutes away. Right past the photographer. I did my best to smile every lap :)
My Soda was a joy to ride on such a physical and technically demanding course. A great all-rounder she is! Long ribbons of loose, flowing single track, interspersed with similarly long sections of off-camber roots, heather bashing, rocky ruts, muddy ruts, and quick sinking chocolate mud. Throw in severe chain suck for more challenging thrills. Plenty of opportunities for sliding into obstacles then.
The weather was as schizophrenic as the course. Sun and rain at the same time on the start line. Intense (yet strangely flat) rainbows. Freakish gusts which tore the registration tents apart in seconds, leaving the race scene strangely rather tentless.
After 7 months away from XC racing due to travel and illness, I didn't know how my legs would respond. But to be honest, I didn't have time to think about it. It's then that you realise what you love about bike racing. The pure focus/madness/exhilaration of living in the moment. Thinking on your feet, always learning. And the camaraderie that comes from being stirred together in mud soup with like-minded souls. Definitely one of the hardest & most rewarding XC races I've done. Looking forward to the next SXC at Cathkin Braes. With a bottle cage and new drive train ;)
Meanwhile, a few hundred miles further south Rachel was taking part in round 2 of the Midlands XC near Chesterfield.
This was my first 'proper'* XC race.  I spent all of the time before the race questioning why I was there.  I can't go fast or hard, that's why I do endurance racing.  But then I remembered, that's exactly why I was doing it - to see what would happen if I tried.

I found the practice laps pretty stressful.  The wind was incredibly strong and made the grassy, boggy climbs across a golf course even tougher.  The singletrack looked great but I just couldn't get my eye in and was bouncing all over the roots.

Fortunately the race went much better than the practice lap.  I had a reasonable start but missed the chance to get a good position by opting to stay in the pack and keep out the wind as much as possible, in hindsight, this was probably a bit conservative.  I managed to gain a few positions on the next grassy climb but then somehow my pedal managed to remove itself from my crank.  Inbetween my cursing I managed to get it back on pretty quickly but by this time I'd lost the places that I'd just gained.  
After that things settled down pretty well; I got into a rhythm and continued to gain places within the female field.  Early on on my final lap I managed to take first place in my category which I held until close to the end when I tried to push a bigger gear than my legs wanted on an up and over and stalled at the top, allowing my competitor to retake first position.
Overall I was pretty pleased with how things went and chuffed to achieve second place in the masters category.  I made plenty of mistakes and there's loads to improve on but I found that if I tried I could race hard.  Perhaps I wasn't as fast as lots of others but that leaves plenty of room for improvement.  

If you're of a strong constitution, nip over to my personal blog for my special race face pics :oO
* I did think it was my first full-stop but I have been reminded I took part in a Midlands race once before when I didn't even own a pair of cycle shorts or top

Wednesday, 3 April 2013

A new season, fresh challenges and an xc team mate!

Emma looks back on her first race of the year...

Sherwood Pines? must be race #1 of the British National Mountain Bike Series! After a disappointing season the previous year I was focussed on moving up the ranks of the elite field. A vitamin D test in October showed optimum levels (not bad as I was severely deficient in March 2012) and I was feeling good and training harder than I have before. Then my knee started playing up, got worse and at one point I could only ride for 10mins. So completing the Sherwood race six weeks after my first physio trip was a huge achievement since all my hard training had fizzled away due to barely being able to ride for more than 30mins and me not being able to give Coach Potter an indication of how long I could consistently ride for.

Whilst no stranger to racing in the same field with her, it is lovely to have a team mate now in the guise of Ruth Owen-Evans, so that we can spread the word and hopefully show everyone the results of being under AQR Coaching tutelage. The only one thing I am concerned about is so far, whenever I’ve stayed anywhere with Ruth it’s snowed.......I hope this doesn’t continue!

After donning numerous layers and a warning from the commissaire about the slippery first corner, due to the unseasonal alpine looking dump of snow that had blanketed the area, the race was under way but at a seemingly more sedate pace than normal. My lack of training over the recent weeks soon became clear whenever the going got tough or uphill, however I was loving the flowy singletrack and having fun pinging my Soda’s back wheel off of roots. I’d opted for yellow lenses in my Sunwise sunnies and it was giving the impression of a nice sunny day which helped the mood, even in the arena where the underlying surface had churned up and it was like riding through glue; the sunnies also stopped the invariable watery eyes due to cold.

The inevitable happened on lap 3 however, about 200m from the finish line, and I was lapped by the leader so my race was over. As I’d entered the pits just prior I’d seen another girl in my category and was spurred on for the chase, however this time it wasn’t to be and she was also pulled from the race even though not lapped.

Whilst not my best performance I did get to put a few things from my AQR Skills days into practice; firstly riding in the snow/on slippery surfaces (that was the other time with Ruth when the Peak District was blanketed!) and secondly adapting my race start, which I thought went well considering. Most importantly though, I finished the race which is more than can be said for some of the other riders. This is just the start of the season, it will no doubt be a long one and things can only get better aboard my lovely Cotic Soda under the watchful eye of AQR Coaching.